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Planning Commission OKs waivers for East Austin apartment project

Tuesday, August 20, 2013 by Elizabeth Pagano

Persistence paid off for developers of an east side project at the Planning Commission last Tuesday. Despite an initial vote against their request, they were able to turn things around in the end.


The Chestnut Neighborhood Revitalization Corporation was seeking four waivers for their apartment project at East 12th and Chicon streets. The waivers will allow the building, parking and placement of a dumpster in the 25-foot setback at 1301, 1309 and 1212 Chicon Street.


Sean Garretson, who is president of the revitalization corporation, told the commission that not having the waivers could greatly impact the affordability of the project.


When complete, the project will consist of about 45 apartments and ground floor retail in three buildings. 33 of the apartments will be classified as affordable for those earning 80 percent of the median family income.


Only five members of the Planning Commission were present at the meeting, with Chair Dave Anderson and Commissioners Richard Hatfield, Myron Smith and Danette Chimenti absent. That meant that the developers would need unanimous support for the waivers. Instead of asking for a postponement to a meeting where, presumably, there would be more commissioners present, the developers argued their case.


The strategy paid off. Though he initially voted against the waivers for the dumpster placement, Commissioner James Nortey changed his mind after the developers agreed to have trash picked up more than once a week. In the end, the commission voted 5-0 to approve all four waivers.


This also alleviated the concerns of soon-to-be adjacent neighbor Dustin Dinh, who told the commissioners that he was opposed to the variance because he was concerned about the smell of the dumpsters. He noted that proposed screening would not affect the odor of the dumpsters.


Dinh does not live in the neighborhood plans to relocate to his property in East Austin in the future.


Commissioner Stephen Oliver said the waivers were understandable, and a result of the “pressures of shallow lots.”


“You’re trying to accommodate the pressures of Austin Energy, what they require for transformers – it’s amazing the complications they will have on a project – commercial design standards, accommodating access for vehicles behind building standards have pushed the buildings up, so now we have the nuisances in the back,” said Oliver.


“That’s what neighborhood design standards have been about… But on shallow lots there’s only so much room before these sites fail,” said Oliver. “The dumpsters and these conditions have been located at the furthest point away on the rear side of the building where it’s supposed to be… It’s the right place for a dumpster and I understand why the encroachment occurs.”


Commissioner Alfonso Hernandez took a big picture approach when reasoning out his support.


“To me, this is a case of a greater overall benefit to the neighborhood than it is a nuisance to one or two individuals,” said Hernandez. “It’s clearly an area that is crying out for revitalization. I think it’s a good project and I think the affordable housing that it will create in that area is definitely more beneficial than any of the negative aspects that it might bring.”


The developers clearly agreed.


“These neighborhoods have been crying for commercial development activity that is of a different nature than the drug activity,” said Garretson. He said that at least one neighbor told him they would do anything to stop crack addicts from running through their back yards.

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